The motives people have, with regard to undertaking such an intensive and demanding course as a TEFL(Teaching English as a Foreign Language), are varied: a desire to live and work in some exotic location; to meet and interact with new people from all walks of life and, indeed, all corners of the globe: to enhance their existing skills or supplement a CV; to forge a different career path or, more altruistically, to seek to improve the lives of others by enabling them to communicate with the wider world while perhaps benefiting them in both social and financial contexts.
I would like to state that the latter, decidedly the most admirable one, was my motive - but it was not. My motive, rather ironically, was to become a better English teacher to my native English speaking students in Scotland! ( That, and the earnest persuasion of a colleague who had researched the course ad nausea and threw in Thailand as the proverbial ?carrot?.) Why did I feel the need to improve upon my skills? The answer is, paradoxically, both simple and complex: grammar teaching is becoming almost non-existent in the Scottish classroom (in my experience) because it is non-existent at teacher training level. How can we, the teachers, impart knowledge to our students which we simply do not possess? Yes, we write grammatically, can critically deconstruct the works of Shakespeare and motivate our students to produce folios of gargantuan proportions, but the basic foundations of English grammar are, quite often, a mystery to us. Not all of us, just those who have had the misfortune lately to wade through; ?methods of teaching and learning? or ?theoretical and practical aspects of professional studies in education, psychology and educational technology? as part of a Post-Graduate Degree in Secondary Education which would encourage ?an informed broader perspective on the nature of learning?. Where, amongst all of this, was the grammar? Ergo TEFL
But which TEFL? The abundant proflagration of courses is enough to ?make the mind boggle? if you will excuse the clich? and the validity of each is often a matter for contentious debate. There are weekend courses, evening courses, two, three, four, five and six week courses, online courses and others lasting months or years and leading to degrees. Hence, my colleague?s diligent research at my behest. After all, it is we, the prospective students, who fund our own TEFL education so it is essential that we receive due value for money. Indeed, I can substantially justify how hard I work for mine. Therefore, validation is crucial as TEFL International themselves advise:
?You should be aware that any training course taken purely through correspondence and with no system of teaching observation and observed teaching practice is highly suspect: it is like learning to swim without ever having taken to the water.?2
The fact that TEFL International issues such considered advice without attempting to deny that there are other valid courses available is undoubtedly in its favour and attests to the confidence it has in its own course ethos and content that it does not seek to denigrate its rivals. With reference to the concluding statement in the advice, valid TEFL courses incorporate real classroom teaching in real situations located in the students? own country with experienced, qualified instructors to observe and offer both support and constructive criticism if necessary. This, as a former student, Louise Dreisig from Denmark, concurs is: ?probably where you learn the most. Theory is good, but experience is better.?3 As a qualified and experienced teacher I wholeheartedly agree; I am still learning from experience seven years into the job. The combination of intensive theory on grammar and methodology in conjunction with interaction with students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and abilities provides those undertaking the course with the necessary knowledge and insight into what the actual job entails. It is a realistic snapshot of your future occupation and one quickly ascertains whether it is a viable one. The fact that it is externally moderated by highly regarded experts such as David Nunan, former President of TESOL (4) and validated by The International Association of TESOL Qualifying Organizations (IATQUO) (5) means that once completed successfully, the slogan ?where the world is your classroom?(6) does actually apply. You ? and I ? are now qualified to teach in almost any country where there is a demand for the teaching of English. Therefore, I think I can safely say that it does provide a considerable return on your initial investment.
TEFL courses can also provide lifelong support and advice to their successful students, concerning job applications, information on various countries or cultures as well as offering the opportunity to gain further qualifications such as Business English, English for Younger Learners or other more advanced certificates. Subsequently, it adheres to the adage of learning being a lifelong process.
To reiterate, why do a TEFL? I have found that all of the motives referred to in the opening paragraph are fundamentally worthwhile as they can provide both the qualified TEFL teacher and the future beneficiaries of their experience with invaluable life skills. I had my own particular motives. Were they met? Absolutely. I can return to my English classroom with a more thorough knowledge of grammar, incorporate it into my own lesson planning, use it with students in my Foundation class who have English as a Second Language and add it to my CV. Will I now consider it as a career? Perhaps. Why? To be able to live and work abroad, experience different cultures, meet new people and even improve the quality of my life and that of others. Had I considered this possible? Not really. Now I do.
Author: Paula Brennan
Date of post: 2006-08-30